Rookie Mario Lemieux of Pittsburgh walked off with an $18,000 car tonight, after his two goals and an assist earned him most valuable player honors in the 37th NHL All-Star Game.

Goalie Pelle Lindbergh of Philadelphia could walk off with head held high, after he twice foiled Wayne Gretzky's bids to tie the game in the third period.

The Prince of Wales Conference won for the eighth time in 10 meetings under the present format, 6-4, with the clincher coming off the stick of Washington's Mike Gartner with nine seconds left. Gartner's score into an empty net was the first All-Star goal by a Capital.

Ray Bourque of Boston made four assists, an All-Star record, and his four points tied a mark.

Lemieux set up a second-period goal by the New York Rangers' Anders Hedberg that put the Wales team ahead to stay at 3-2. Then Lemieux scored, off sharp passes by Bourque and Kirk Muller of New Jersey.

Mike Krushelnyski of Edmonton, who earned three assists, stole the puck from Washington's Scott Stevens and fed Gretzky midway through the third period for Gretzky's seventh goal in six All-Star games.

But when Gretzky lifted the puck from Stevens moments later and skated in on a breakaway, Lindbergh stopped him.

"That was nice, to come back and make that save," Lindbergh said. "I said today before the game that whatever happens, happens. I was nervous, but not like last time."

Last time was 1983, when Gretzky scored four All-Star goals against Lindbergh in the third period at Long Island.

Tonight, after Lemieux's second goal provided some breathing space at 5-3, Krushelnyski fed Randy Carlyle of Winnipeg from behind the goal line with 2:51 left to close the gap once more. With 26 seconds remaining, Gretzky took a pass from Dale Hawerchuk of Winnipeg and shot toward a half-open net. The sprawling Lindbergh got just enough to keep the puck out and ruin Gretzky's celebration in half-swing.

"Somebody hit me and fell in the net and I didn't really know where the puck was," Lindbergh said. "I tried to butterfly as much as possible to cover the net."

Lemieux, 19, was second-youngest player in the game, after linemate Muller. Pittsburgh, New Jersey and the Rangers are involved in the only real playoff fight at the moment, but Lemieux said he, Muller and Hedberg did not discuss the race today.

"We just talked about the game and what we had to do," Lemieux said. "I was nervous and I didn't know what to expect in my first All-Star Game, but Ray Bourque told me just to go out there and play, and it's going to be all right.

"It's a big feeling to win the MVP when you play against Gretzky and you play with Mike Bossy. You expect those guys to win the MVP. You can't really explain the feeling. Maybe tomorrow I'll understand what happened on the ice."

Lemieux said he would give the car to his brother Richard, 20, a grocery clerk in Montreal. He also said "That was for him" in reference to Don Cherry, the coach-turned-critic who recently called Lemieux "the biggest floater in hockey."

"It's his opinion, but you can't say he's right," Lemieux said. "The Penguins asked me to play offense. They don't care about my defensive play."

Washington's Bob Carpenter and Gartner did a superb job killing off two penalties and Carpenter shot high in a bid for a short-handed goal after Gartner ignited a two-on-one with a steal from Paul Reinhart of Calgary. "I hope (Washington Coach) Bryan (Murray) takes a look at that tape," Carpenter said.

Carpenter played left wing on a line with Gartner and center Bryan Trottier of the New York Islanders, although Wales Coach Al Arbour initially assigned Trottier to the left wing spot.

"Al told us this morning Trots would be the left wing," Carpenter said. "I asked Mike if he thought I should offer to play left wing, since I've played it and Trots hasn't. We talked about it and Mike said it would be nice to make the gesture and he was sure Trots would say, 'You were picked at center, you should play it.'

"So I went up to Trots and I said, 'Bryan, would you like to play center?' And he said, 'Sure, thanks a lot.' So I got stuck, but it really didn't bother me. We all got a lot of ice time, which was fine with me."

This was the second All-Star Game for Gartner, who played in 1981 at Los Angeles. He said, "I was a lot looser this time. I had played with a lot of these guys in the Canada Cup and familiarity with the faces made it easier."

Washington captain Rod Langway, making his fifth straight All-Star appearance, turned in his usual competent job on defense. He broke up a two-on-one with the score 3-2, deflecting an attempted pass from Glenn Anderson of Edmonton to John Ogrodnick of Detroit.

"It was a good game," Langway said. "There was a lot of puck movement and the fans had to enjoy it."

Stevens had problems in his All-Star debut, principally because he could not use the physical tools that are his biggest asset. When he lost the puck to Krushelnyski along the boards, under normal circumstances he probably would have flattened the Oiler forward.

"It was a pretty quick game," Stevens said. "The defensemen had to backpedal real quick when the puck was turned over. I thought we'd keep Gretzky scoreless, but the longer he goes without scoring, the madder he gets and the better he plays."